Brickbat to the editor

A picture and many strong words

In the January 2010 issue of Pragati, accompanying an article titled “Telangana Liberated”, we published the following photograph.

March and Dharna against Operation Green Hunt - Bharath Margabandu
March and Dharna against Operation Green Hunt - Bharath Margabandu

This image is part of a series of photographs taken by Bharath Margabandu on a protest march against Operation Green Hunt, the Indian government’s new security initiative against the Naxalite movement. We didn’t know (and didn’t care) who the persons in the photographs are. We chose the photograph because, in our judgement, it is relevant to the article alongside which it was published.

This morning we got an email from a Dr Ashley Tellis from the Indian Institute of Technology, Hyderabad (not the well-known Washington-based international relations scholar). We produce the email exchange in full and leave readers to arrive at their own judgements.

From: ashley tellis
Date: 2010/1/27
Subject: Photograph
To: pragati@…

Dear Sir/Madam,

I write to register my surprise at your profound stupidity. In the article ‘Telangana Liberated” (wrongly spelt in your Highlights section at least online, so please change it) by Ram Yadav ( a former DGP of AP, which shows just how “fresh” and “bold” your magazine is) in the latest issue of your pathetic, right-wing rag of a magazine, you carry a picture of me in an APCLC march against Operation Greenhunt in Hyderabad.

The march had nothing to do with Telangana, your article has nothing to do with Operation Green Hunt and the poster I am carrying has nothing to do with your article. It says (for non-Telugu readers) “Murderers of Adivasis in the forest/ The forced occupation of the natural resources by MNCs and Operation Green hunt Opposition Committee”. It says nothing about Naxalites or about Telangana and to carry this photograph with this raving and ranting rightwing article which shows the mindset of a five year old with a war video game is nothing short of ridiculous. The march was and is against the killing of tribals by people like Mr. Yadav through a fascist “operation” like Green”hunt.” The march had no position on Naxalites or on Telangana. Please get some basic facts right and learn to read a photograph before you carry it.

Please grow up and if you can’t carry a decent article at least carry a relevant photograph, you sad and sorry idiots.

Dr. Ashley Tellis
Department of Liberal Arts
Indian Institute of Technology, Hyderabad
Estamos en la lucha

From: Nitin Pai
Date: 2010/1/27
Subject: Re: Photograph
To: ashley tellis

Dear Prof Tellis,

Thank you for your email. If you permit, we would like to publish it on our website.


(via Mobile)

From: ashley tellis
Date: 2010/1/27
Subject: RE: Photograph
To: nitin.pai@..

Please do. That was the whole point in sending the email to you.

Estamos en la lucha

From: Nitin Pai
Date: 2010/1/27
Subject: Re: Photograph
To: ashley tellis

Thank you.

We treat all correspondence as private by default. That’s the reason I asked.


(via Mobile)

From: ashley tellis
Date: 2010/1/27
Subject: RE: Photograph
To: nitin.pai@..

There is no such thing as private. Everything in the world is public. The stupidity of your magazine is a prime example.

Estamos en la lucha

Note: We have edited out the email addresses to protect everyone’s privacy, including Dr Tellis’s

85 thoughts on “Brickbat to the editor”

  1. Dear Mr. Tellis,

    I quote from one of your posts here:

    “What it does mean, however, is that I am not going to be comfortable being put in a right-wing article attacking Telangana (I am firmly pro-Telangana) especially on the basis of some stupid non-analysis by some dumbass, fascist policeman that claims that Telangana will be run by Naxalites!”

    Last I remember, BJP, a Right Wing party, has given unconditional support to the issue of Telangana and has questioned the Congress Govt.’s method in resolving this matter. The right wing political party of this country has been categorical that they support the idea of smaller states. They have also by accepting this showcased two important things:

    1. State govts. are unable to manage larger states and a large section of the society gets overlooked in policies and, therefore, remains under-privileged. Such a position is unacceptable. If the country is growing prosperous at certain level, then mechanism for deployment of benefits to all has to be devised and creation of smaller states may offer that solution.

    2. There may be a problem of Naxaliites in some of these areas, but the govt. is in a position to deal with the violence perpetrated by such body of people. It is simply a question of willingness. It is such a violent situation that creates an excuse for unconstitutional freedom to certain personnel within law enforcement agencies, which ultimately leads to certain crimes that you have mentioned time and again. If there is a political will to fight such terrorists and a policy of uplifting the underpriveleged sections of the society in a certain region, then this law and order situation can also be brought under control. And the right-wing party of India has the willingness to solve these issues.

    Jharkhand, Uttaranchal and Chhatisgarh were created within 3 months of the NDA govts. nod. You can check the records for that.

    So, as far as the issue of Telangana is concerned, I don’t expect you to blame the right-wing parties for that.

    It is public knowledge that Rayalseema and Costal Andhra portion of Andhra Pradesh is not in favor of Telangana and Congress is offering all possible administrative support to such an opposition. BJP, the right wing party, has communicated to Congress (which is in central govt.) that they can count on BJP.

    But if Congress has a different agenda, then, people such as you should blame Congress and not the right-wing parties.

    As far as the article is concerned, it is DGP Yadav’s view. Like you, he also has the right to share his views, right or wrong doesn’t matter. And by the way, right-wing parties have never ruled Andhra Pradesh and, therefore, can hardly be blamed for police atrocities, if any. I am very sure that you must ask these questions to TDP and Congress who have shared the state amongst themselves.

    And since you are against violence anyway, why don’t you shed the violence in your words too. Else, you are anyway your own boss.

  2. @Ashley Tellis,

    It is news to me to find IIT professors jumping down into the mud, waging flame-wars and slinging insults online. India is surely growing up !!

    I think you are right in demanding your photograph to be withdrawn, but you shouldn’t have vent your anger and resort to random name-calling, unless you want to earn yourself the status of a notorious internet celebrity. I am not sure of your intentions, but I trust you are a smart man. Otherwise you wouldn’t be working at IIT. Being a doctor of social sciences, I believe you understand the difference between fascism and nationalism.

    I think Nitin is a very decent guy, and you should apologize to him immediately for calling him (amongst other things) fascist, stupid, arrogant etc. If you bother to read some other posts on this blog, you’d have seen that Nitin has argued for the legitimization of prostitution. I think he believes in fundamental liberties of human beings, and would have struck a chord with you on your LGBT agenda (I suspect). You might be abusing your stereotype glasses a bit too much, which is very unbecoming for an academician.

    .. what Indians do best, which is fart in public, offering opinions that are unsolicited and unremarkable in their utter meaninglessness, apart from terrible odour they give out: ..

    Specifically, I object to your stereotyping of my countrymen, which I find very demeaning and crude.

  3. @Prasanna,

    I dunno about you guys, but I find it interesting that the IIT has a “Department of Liberal Arts”.

    It is very important that technical universities have departments of fine arts and liberal arts. We are all human beings who need to have rounded personalities.. Don’t generalize your opinions on one specific individual (Dr. Tellis, here) to all the academicians in humanities.

  4. @Ashley Tellis, @Nitin Pai @Ram Yadav

    Although I am not an academic or a policy analyst I have written what I believe is a rational critique of Mr Yadav’s article. I have also touched upon the conversation in this thread.

    It might be of interest.

  5. This chap is obviously an attention seeker. He is the unknown Ashley Tellis, lurks in the Liberal Arts department of a popular technology institute, and claims to be gay. Now thanks to Nitin and Acorn, he has managed to get the attention of a few thousand people. And thanks to Pragati’s error, he even has managed to have his photograph published.

    Liberal arts must be the only course in a technology institute that has people expressing opinions and not facts.

  6. The only thing right abt what Ashley Tellis has said is the gross exploitation and land caused by the MNCs. We are truly letting a wholesale theft of our resources happen and there is no doubt that the tribals are being coerced into that much like Congo in Africa.
    The current Indian state is very MNC oriented and I believe that is bad for all of us because raw materials are being shipped out at dirt cheap prices, never to come back whereas PSUs like SAIL are starving for them. Of course the margins are going into the pockets of the bureaus.
    To that extent Ashley Tellis is right and we need voices to spk for the Indians who have no voice – which includes the Adivasis and majority Indians btw.
    The Naxals are another poison out to get the same resources and people. They need to be crushed because they represent another government.
    Problem is huge and while certainly don’t need another genocide suzie, we need more people to see these MNCs ffor what they are. Hardly capitalist, more feudalistic – continuing the tradition of the Cecil Rhodes and East India COmpanies of the world.

    However, unfortunately, I cannot support Ashley Tellis because of his personal views. They are just wrong. Absolutely wrong. As a sanatani, I guess it is not evil but error. However, it is the grossest error. And unfortunately, they colour everything.

  7. On the point of liberal arts, it is time we as a nation start tapping into our own traditional liberal arts traditions. I don’t understand why we have to copy western systems – right wing, left wing, communism etc. As an old, old civilization we have plenty of systems which people need to explore. And yes, we need all streams of thinking. India was flourishing when thought was open.

    I am glad that eng. schools are thinking of liberals arts because we in India have a gross shortage in the social sciences. These are the people who make nations and for whatever reasons our people run into eng. & Medicine which is well and good but majority will not become drivers of the country and will continue to import ideas from outside because original thought is absent.
    Note the excessive use of right wing and left wing in a complex land as India. It is truely an injustice to the different shades of thought that exist. However, plenty of intelligent folks fall into the trap including the writers of Pragati.

  8. >>To that extent Ashley Tellis is right and we need voices to spk for the Indians who have no voice – which includes the Adivasis

    This is humbug. The adivasis do have a voice. Check this out

    If you are going to allege that the above is an MNC conspiracy, please provide evidence as to which MNC (McDonalds? Kentucky Fried Chicken?) was behind it all.

  9. Dr. Tellis –

    I’ve been reading your replies to the comments posted. Granted, your photo wasn’t relevant to the article, at least imho.

    Your responses to criticism – calling your critics fools or idiots or making generalizations (e.g. “…instead of doing what Indians do best, which is fart in public, offering opinions that are unsolicited and unremarkable…”) are quite amusing, to say the least.

    Your words look like the rants of an ideologue than the considered views of an academic. Much as I respect your right to free speech, you seem to go off balance a bit too easily. Especially for an academic.

  10. @oldtimer,
    Check those details behind the MOUs filed and you will have an answer. Also look at the owndership structure of these MNCs and you will know how many oldtimers exist (pun unintended).

    That stone throwing episode is hardly a voice. The adivasis are caught between a rock and a hard place. And they are our people. Your people, my people.

    I hope that we will not end up with case studies and papers done on us the way they are done for Africa. Read below

    All diamonds are blood diamonds
    The truth about the diamond trade link

  11. N

    I second what you say, especially about liberal arts in technical places and the need for indigenous descriptors in the social sciences. The borrowed nomenclatures miss out a lot of the Indian reality and are unnecessarily polarizing.

    Btw I personally think IITs are overhyped even as technological institutions, providing little or no quality research.

    As for Dr. Tellis, had he been a little less hostile and had his life issues sorted out, he could have been worth a listen. I do get his point that Pragati writers sometime appear like schoolboys excited over new wargames.


  12. “why-am-i-paying-for-ashley-tellis-salary” – of course for teaching liberal arts in IIT Hydbad . I am really amazed by this line of questioning. Does the professor has an obligation on top of his teaching assignments, is he not entitles to have a political opinion.

  13. Ashley,

    Dude, what is with the attitude? Especially on the comments in the pederasty article someone here linked to. For a moment I thought they were fake, but then realized not so.

    The edginess of finding an academic defending pederasty in a mainstream Indian newspaper quickly dissipated on reading your comments below. Not that I agree a bit with them, or believe in agency of minors on sexual issues.

    I am sure you have many good things to say. Hope you realize you have revealed yourself and your causes in poor light by your rudeness here. You may say it does not matter, but it does.


  14. The professor’s choice of words leaves a lot to be desired, but then who knows how anyone would react if it was their own photo published out of context?

    But I read the article in question thanks to this exchange. Intelligent, it certainly is not. Analysis it could be construed as, of the most shallow variety. My driver in Hyderabad can give you better insights about Telangana, TRS and the Maoists than your Yadav dude. But he can’t write English, so that is a problem.

  15. N,

    Agree with your point about the truth behind the structure of the MNCs. Also, about the way resource mining contracts are handed out in India. The politicians who are in-charge of these ministries themselves are taking licenses through various individuals and entities. Go to any state and some of the richest individuals(not necessarily the tax-paying ones) are the mining guys.

    It is also one of the most overlooked area of India’s business potentials.

    As for the structure, the corruption money finds way abroad through hawala. It goes to swiss banks. An attorney is appointed who acts on the account holder’s behalf. Bogus companies are launched and a fake CEO or GM is put in place. In the last few years, some leading Indian politicians have been using this money through these bogus companies to buy stakes in some very large MNCs. These same MNCs then come into India to do business, Black becomes white and starts multiplying. The license to the business is issued at some dirt cheap price to such companies. For e.g. Telecom Licenses. Now it will be 3G licenses. All benefits go outside the country.

    Anyway, there are many such dirty truths. Its more important to create a mechanism to stop such things from happening rather than go behind those individuals. The way these things work, one can never prove. Its better to take a practical view of them and go for the best possible solution.

    However, Dr. Tellis’ way of solving this grievance will lead people no where. People involved with these things are way too powerful, insensitive and ruthless. They will create so much confusion that the real objective will be left behind.

    Dr. Tellis is just teaching liberal arts in an IIT. His approach shows that he’s just one concerned individual and himself has no clue on how to solve these deep-rooted problems. He can scream and shout, it will get him no where.


    Piyush K

  16. Ashley Tellis:
    “There is no such thing as a private letter sent to an editor. Privacy is also an issue with many dangers, as feminists, for example, have pointed out.”

    Ignoring the fact that above sentence does not parse and makes no sense,
    it is lost on this comrade that it is the norm to protect private correspondence and not make it public without the permisson of the person who expects it to be private. Comrade Tellis explicitly states he did not consider that any correspondence was private, implying that he did not care if the correspondence was made public, and then pretends that he never gave permission when the correspondence was made public, which basically makes you a bare-faced liar.

    ” The irony, alas, is lost on you. I guess your idea of irony matches Alanis Morrisette’s. Look up the definition in a dictionary.”

    No, comrade Tellis, the real Irony is that communism is a fascist philosophy that seeks complete central control of everyone under its grip — communism is nothing but an oligarchy comprised of the Communist politburo.

    The real irony is that you pretend someone else cannot see the irony of you throwing around words like “fascist”…..which indicates that either you do not have the brains to comprehend that you are a fascist ideologue of the communist kind. And yet, you are a faculty member in a so-called elite institution in India. Remember Stalin, comrade? Would you like a list of the communists who have also been fascists? Remember Mussolini, comrade Tellis?

  17. dear ashley,
    the very fact that a letter written by you has generated a ‘debate’ is an achievement in itself. your reaction is very valid and justified. i would have in fact sent a ‘beautiful garland of abuses’ if i were in your place 🙂

    @ all: before reacting to someone’s ‘rudeness’, STOP n THINK, i.e. if arent moronic-imbeciles, WHY???

  18. Hello N,

    True, Kentucky Fried Chicken could be an evil corporation (genetically modified chicken could be on the horizon) and I agree in general that any entity _not_ headquartered in India, including the Church, needs to be viewed with scrutiny. But I’m on the point of your patronizing, self-denying, self-effacing act of lending your precious voice for the voiceless tribal. As you can see from the episode of how the tribals have wised up to the menace of “social activists”, they will be happier with fewer speakers for them.

  19. We lack a common platform where left and right leaning people can have a meaningful debate. The closest i have seen is in blogs like this which i won’t call a debate as most of it revolves around known positions and hardly breaks any new ground. We like it or not, there are ideologies which we don’t agree with but have to live with, we do need a platform where both can come together and hopefully have a meaningful debate sans all hot airs. But i think we have to contend with clashes like these for starters.

  20. sunita write:
    “@ all: before reacting to someone’s ‘rudeness’, STOP n THINK, i.e. if arent moronic-imbeciles, WHY???”

    No. Telepathy should not be required to figure out what Ashley Tellis wants to say — that is what words and sentences are for.

    Perhaps you should stop and think about that.

  21. Communists are not exactly patrons of free speech or thought, so excuse me for laughing at communists that insist on calling everyone else fascists.

  22. @ M
    The effects of globalization is being studied and debated world over. Indian companies like ongc, infosys and tata are mncs too, by virtue of globalization alone they were able to become competitive and succeed as mncs. But if it does have good effects, presumably it must have ill effects as well. However globalization is a debate in itself. Your concern for the underprivileged is not only appreciated but shared by a lot of people, we only differ on the solution.

  23. Nitin,
    I see Godwin’s law slowly emerging in this debate. Maybe it is time to make a closing statement and bring this discussion to an end. However your closing it may be construed by Dr.Tellis and others as an attempt to get out of a tight corner.


  24. I mentioned Mussolini instead of the other chap so that there wouldn’t be people jumping up and down yelling “Godwin’s law, Godwin’s law”.

  25. There has been no land reform and crooked politicians, political parties, and their cronies in bureaucracy have made sure that the land mafia owns all the land in urban areas by proxy. If you have not been approached by thugs to get out of your property, it is only because they do not think your property is valuable enough for them to bother with you.

    So we have a bunch of thieves and criminals in politics that do not create jobs or prosperity who sell public property (airwaves/telephone bandwidth/land/minerals) to MNCs because of their corruption and criminality, and somehow it is the MNCs that are at fault here? The MNCs have to make a business decision of not bending over for crooked politicians
    or paying bribes and getting into the game to make some money.

    I will believe that the MNCs are the root of all evil when the rest of public governance operates at the same level of efficiency as a private company, but how is that possible when hiring incompetent people is official government policy that exists under the rubric of social inequality.

    So, yes, maybe the MNCs are not the epitome of saintliness and good heartedness, but they are far from being the main evil today — the main evils are Jyoti Basu/Lalu Prasad-type politician criminals who rip out pages from the constitution for wiping their butts and undermine the very constitution they took an oath to protect after winning the elections.

    I am sure the people in charge of the country today know which of their friends and colleagues are these criminals, but we also know that these criminals will not be touched as long as they have value to the people who run the political party.

  26. Quite frankly, if you are publishing a magazine, with any over-reaching claims of being of any quality, a stand like this “We didn’t know (and didn’t care) who the persons in the photographs are” just simply doesn’t cut it. Otherwise it is nothing but a poorly edited personal or group blog appearing in a colorful printout form. Call it your club’s newsletter. Or hire a decent editor with good journalistic ethics and standards.

  27. @SR Murthy – Changing of names do not matter. The taking of extreme positions (and making comparisons to the absolute evil of Fascism) whose defence becomes the goal of the debate, reduces the likelihood of even trying to understand the other party’s argument. This is true for Dr.Tellis too by the way.


  28. @Pradeep,
    Godwin’s law is only invoked when a specific name is invoked — we can take it to the International Court of Slang if you disagree. 🙂

    You have a point about extreme positions not being conducive to debate, but arguments that do not stand up to scrutiny need to be challenged. So if the likes of Tellis and sunita are going to throw about words like “fascism” to justify their abuse, then their BS needs to be called.

    Not doing so to with the intention of elevating the debate would be self-defeating — debating is elevated with better ideas on all sides, not more politeness/PCness to hide the lack of substance in any party to the debate.

  29. I notice that the picture shows CPI(M-L) cadre marching in the crowd along with Tellis.
    CPI(M-L) has been designated as a terrorist group a long time back — they are listed in ‘s list of Indian terrorist groups. Please check that site out for yourselves.

  30. @Pradeep, if you think my positions are extreme in the same manner as Tellis Saheb’s position, please do enlighten me. I promise not to bite.

  31. @ SR Murthy – Thanks for your reply.

    “Godwin’s law is only invoked when a specific name is invoked — we can take it to the International Court of Slang if you disagree.”

    Godwin’s Law is just a place holder. As you have already agreed that Godwin’s law is a colloquial law, it usage does become context specific. My interpretation of Godwin’s law has already been defined by me in the earlier comment(which I feel that many would agree with). In fact I myself have a local variant of Godwin’s law according to which all the most debates on the Indian webscape degenerate into Hindu-Muslim mudslinging. That said, I still stand by my original assertion that taking a metaphorical example of absolute extremes in detrimental to the debate and comparison to Fascism.

    if you think my positions are extreme in the same manner as Tellis Saheb’s position, please do enlighten me. I promise not to bite.

    As I already mentioned, whether unilaterally or in response to a previous comment, comparing a person’s position with Fascism gives the impression that the accuser considers the others position as absolute evil (as Nazism and Fascism do fit the term in every sense of it) and hence non-debatable. I do believe that you have compared Dr.Tellis’ (communist) position using the same metaphor. In my opinion the best way to continue if you have a someone degenerating the debate this way is to ignore the accusation and continue to attack the user’s position with logical counterpoints.

    All said, this mini-debate is indeed going into specifics. I will consider this my closing statement and would suggest that you make yours too. I will respond in case you want me to.

  32. @pradeep, w.r.t. the exercise with throwing that accusation at Tellis, surely the man can accept what he dispenses?

  33. @SR Murthy
    w.r.t. the exercise with throwing that accusation at Tellis, surely the man can accept what he dispenses
    Is that the purpose of the debate? I never said he was a saint. In fact he is much more vehemently holding a position compared to you.

  34. Since the issue has been raised by several commenters: Unlike mainstream publications, at Pragati, we deliberately try to use images that are not “obvious”. In other words, if the article is about Sharm-el-Sheikh, we don’t run photos of Gilani & Manmohan Singh smiling to the cameras.

    To the extent possible, the images are meant to complement the article. Sometimes the image is tangential. Sometimes it provides a counterpoint. Sometimes there is irony. [All this is subjective, obviously, and that is the point]. Again, to the extent possible, we try to avoid photographs of well-known personalities.

    When I wrote “we didn’t know and didn’t care who was in the picture” I meant that we didn’t care about the identities of the individuals in the picture. Contrary to what one commenter has suggested, we do pay a lot of attention to the photos (as we do to the articles) we run. We are quite proud of it, actually.

    Let’s conclude the discussion on this post here.

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